Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 2, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

CONSERVATIVE AMERICA....I always figured it would be a warm day in Canada before I agreed with anything David Frum wrote, but Matt Yglesias is right to say that Frum deals honestly with an uncomfortable truth today:

America in 2004 is a less ideologically conservative country than it was in 1984. The partisan map has been trending Democrat for a dozen years: Dick Morris points out that Minnesota is the only state in the Union that has grown more Republican since 1988.

....Bush has earned his political success by understanding these trends and adapting to them. Where he can hold onto traditional conservative principles, he does as he did on taxes. But where he cannot safely uphold conservative principles, he is not prepared to suffer martyrdom for them. On domestic issues, Bush is not a conviction politician of the Ronald Reagan/Margaret Thatcher type. He is a managerial politician of the Eisenhower/Ford type a dealmaker, a compromiser, coping with an adverse political climate.

....The question is not, "Is Bush a Conservative?" It is, "How conservative can Bush be?" An honest answer to that second question may be a good deal less reassuring than the answer to the first.

This is something that I mentioned a few weeks ago: despite the supposed rightward drift of America since the early 80s, the fact is that most Americans actually have an increasingly liberal view of most issues: they like Social Security and Medicare, they like strong public schools, they prefer working with the UN to taking action unilaterally, and they are socially pretty tolerant. Taxes excepted, this is why Bush mostly has to advance the conservative agenda by stealth: if he spoke honestly about his goals he'd get very little support. And he knows it.

Overall, I suspect that the conventional wisdom about America becoming ever more conservative is almost certainly wrong. It's a subject that deserves more attention.

Kevin Drum 11:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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